TheCommodore
Topic Author
Posts: 3458
Joined: Tue Dec 25, 2007 2:14 am

The Coral Route, Flying Boats & WWII Airstrips

Sun Mar 28, 2010 8:31 am

Air Rarotonga Flight GZ614
RAR/AIT (Rarotonga to Aitutaki)
2 March 2010

Scheduled Departure: 10.30 hrs
Flight Time: 40 minutes

Aircraft Type: SAAB 340
Registration: E5-EFS

Aitutaki is known as one of the largest and most beautiful lagoons in the world. Located 220 kilometres north of Rarotonga, this unlikely outpost of the southern Cook Islands was once home to the international airport of the Cook Islands, well before Rarotonga airport, and possesses a rich, varied aviation history.



Its aviation development began in 1942 when 1000 United States Servicemen and New Zealand labourers arrived on the island to build two airstrips, which were planned to halt the potential eastward advance of the Japanese. Men, money, machinery and general goods, considered necessary for the well being of the troops, were poured into the island, transforming its economy. Pictured below are a combined Army and New Zealand M.O.W. contingent of the original team of builders. (Bignell Collection)

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Historic%20Cook%20Islands%20Aviation/Builders.jpg

In 1951, Tasman Empire Airways Limited (TEAL – the forerunner of Air New Zealand) launched its plan for a luxury flying-boat service that would come to epitomise the sheer romance of air travel.

The ‘Coral Route’, a pleasure trip without parallel through the tropical beauty of the Pacific Islands, captivated tourists with its mix of comfort, style and destination appeal. It was to become an aviation legend.

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_3813.jpg

Today, Air Rarotonga flies to Aitutaki from Rarotonga several times a day, landing and taking off on the original WWII runway.

A combination of video and land/lagoon-based photographs in this trip report provides a glimpse of the flight to Aitutaki, images of the original WWII coral airstrip, and, a look at what remains of TEAL’s now derelict seaplane jetty that extends into the peaceful, aqua coloured waters of Aitutaki’s lagoon at the uninhabited island of Akaiami. This is where Coral Route passengers once bathed in paradise-perfect waters, while their gigantic Solent seaplanes were refuelled en-route to Tahiti.

There’s a considerable amount of conflicting information about the history of the Coral Route. The information in this report was derived from a variety of sources, some of which are listed below.

If you prefer to watch, rather than read further detail, you can click this link now, or arrive at the same link further down and watch later.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8_03S2oiuI

Leaving Rarotonga

The domestic section of Rarotonga International Airport is dominated by Air New Zealand’s check-in area. Air Rarotonga’s check-in stands alongside, adjacent to its booking office, and each check-in desk is dominated by gigantic 1960s style Avery Scales – the kind with the enormous clock face that used to frequent railway platforms, offering to advise your personal weight for 20 cents. With a strict 16 kg baggage allowance, several fellow travellers regard their unwieldy suitcases with an air of nervousness.

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_2899PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_2898PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_2901PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

With bags checked, passengers are directed to the departure hall with a casual wave of the hand.

There’s a quiet 25 minute wait in the breezy atrium, characterised by relatively skinny westerners staring at iPhones, or poking mobiles with furrowed brows, and generously proportioned locals strolling languidly around, bare footed mostly, as well as local children frolicking and playing with simple objects. To one corner is a temporary looking kiosk with a large sign saying ‘International Departure Tax - $55’. Despite our flight being the only domestic departure from the airport in the next few hours, several fellow passengers appear confused as to whether Aitutaki is actually another country and approach the desk with uncertainty, before being waved away by the Rarotongan encased within. They sheepishly return to their seats with the rest of us. On the far side, the attendant of a small, tidy refreshment hut looks forlornly for customers but attracts none. She polishes the glass of its display case, slowly.

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_2900PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

When 10.30am arrives, there’s no boarding call, not that it’s reasonable to expect any differently in a place as relaxed as Rarotonga. Somebody simply opens the door to the airfield and ambles away. The keenest amongst us slip through the open door within seconds, cameras at hand, to photograph the SAAB before passengers begin wandering all over the apron, obstructing a clear view.

The very clean Air Rarotonga SAAB 340 is a mere 25m away and boarding is via its own alloy staircase. A flight attendant is provided for this largest of Air Rarotonga’s fleet and she greets each passenger with a warm smile as they present their thermal paper boarding passes.

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_2895PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

Within minutes, everyone is aboard and bags are stowed in the rear luggage compartment. The flight attendant hauls in the bi-folding stairs, slides them forward into their receptacle, slides her jump seat to its locking position, and shuts the door. We are ready to go.

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_2902PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_2904PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_2905PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

The starboard engine starts spinning and gently spools into life, followed, of course, by the port. Our FA runs through her safety announcement. There are four exits, which we can see her pointing to. The safety card shows that there are life jackets available, though where they are kept is a mystery. A quick feel around under the seat reveals nothing. No mention of life rafts.

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_2907PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

We begin rolling and taxi to the far western end of the runway, turning 360 degrees before beginning our takeoff roll of 28 seconds. We climb to a cruise altitude of 10,000 feet. Even though it’s just a 40 minute flight, there’s a refreshment service.

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_2910PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_2914PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_2913PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

Aitutaki’s lagoon appears gradually from the dark blue ocean water as a turquoise triangle bordered by a ruffle of white, where the Pacific swells are turned to foam by its reef. Inside the triangle, the water displays the most incredible gradients of green through to an almost surreal aqua, mottled with pink by the coral heads that stud the lagoon’s floor.

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_2918PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_2922PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

The image below shows the eastern end of the WWII runway.

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_2919PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

The link below provides a short video of the entire flight. Nearing final approach, GZ614 passes over the eastern end of the WWII, now bitumen sealed runway, before tracking to the north and completing its final approach from the west.

Youtube link from above:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8_03S2oiuI

On Sundays, planes currently take a different approach to Aitutaki from the one seen in the above video. They avoid the lagoon and main island altogether. This is an attempt to minimise offence to locals, who, being predominantly devout Christians, are strictly opposed to flights arriving on Sundays. Tourists arriving on these flights are currently welcomed to the island by a picket line of protesters. In recent weeks, even Royal Air Force New Zealand Hercules flights carrying much needed supplies for the cyclone recovery effort have been met by protesters.

Unfortunately, Aitutaki was badly damaged by Cyclone Pat on 12 February 2010. As can be seen, the airport terminal building has lost all of its windows and much of the roof tiling has been blown away.

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_2925PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_2926PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

Standing alongside the terminal, the newer of the airport’s two fire fighting appliances can be seen, still sporting a smashed windscreen. It stands at the ready for each flight arrival.

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_2928PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

Other evidence of the ferocity of Cyclone Pat can be found around the airport. These two images were taken at the eastern end of the main runway. One piece of corrugated iron can be seen firmly embedded in a palm tree. Another is wrapped around the airport’s perimeter fence wire like a piece of tissue paper.

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_3042.jpg

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_3041.jpg

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_3043PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

The strength of feeling about Sunday arrivals is on display around the main island, with many houses displaying signs discouraging these flights in their front gardens. The local mayor has discouraged the placement of such signs in English, reminding Aitutakians of the tiny island’s dependence on tourism, particularly in the wake of Cyclone Pat. Aitutakians have been asked to state their protest in the local language – Maori.

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_3262PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_3256PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

The two runways at Aitutaki airport (6,000ft and 5,000ft x 300ft wide) were built at a reported cost of around four and a half million US dollars. The extremely high cost for that period was attributed to the extensive land reclamation and swamp-filling involved in the development. As with elsewhere in the Pacific, a composition of a coral-sand-clay mix, extracted by drag-line from the bottom of the lagoon, was used to surface the two strips.



Although today’s main strip has now been resurfaced, the alternative strip meets the main runway where the terminal building stands. Sadly, a new coral road has been cut across it creating a short cut for vehicles to current the terminal building, so it is no longer in use. However, the original surface has reportedly proved very durable and it seems it would still support daily use, were it not for the recent incursion.

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_3034.jpg

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_3033.jpg

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_3036.jpg

Travelling around the main island, we came across an old DC3 in the back yard of Aitutaki’s last Mayor. Stopping to ask a few questions, it emerged that the DC3, unfortunately has no history with Aitutaki, having been brought to the island for the filming of ‘The Silent Ones’ in 1993. No evidence of a final registration could be found.

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_3032PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_3412PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_3413PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_3411PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_3414PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_3417PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

Not far from the main township of Arutanga, The Air Rarotonga office is found.

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_3255PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_3400PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

Flying Boats History

Supplies and equipment first arrived at the port of Avarua, where a wharf had not yet been constructed.

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Historic%20Cook%20Islands%20Aviation/Harbour.jpg

Dynamite was used to blast out coral heads in the magnificent lagoon on the east side of the main island to facilitate the use of drag-lines for the construction of both airstrips. This was of immense importance to the later use of the lagoon as a ’Leg Destination’ for TEAL’s flying boats. Current knowledge of conservation and the fragility of coral environments would have almost certainly prevented the work these days – but two seaplane runways were prepared, each 10,000ft long. Empty oil drums were used at first as marker buoys. Channels had to be blasted out to service the seaplanes, and a mine yawl was used to go out to them.

It was on this overall platform that TEAL/Air New Zealand would start the famous Coral Route using the lagoon in November 1952. The extremely fine crushed coral sand that lines the floor of the lagoon in the area of the seaplane runways creates a unique azure coloured water.

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_3217PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

The origins of the route lay in the RNZAF’s wartime transports to the islands. Out of these grew the post-war civilian services of New Zealand’s then domestic airline – National Airways Corporation or NAC. Converted Sunderlands and DC3s were the first aircraft types used. In 1950, TEAL acquired the Auckland-Suva (Fiji) route, and its upmarket Solents took over from NAC’s lumbering Sunderlands. Within a year, TEAL had obtained permission to operate an Auckland to Papeete (Tahiti) service and the ‘Coral Route’ was born.

A Catalina flying boat, owned by the department of Civil Aviation, was used to survey the route and establish suitable landing sites for the Solents. Locations were established in Suva and Samoa, but the heavy swell in Rarotonga made it unsuitable for the Solents. Aitutaki, the most pristine, unspoiled stop of the route was therefore chosen as the ideal alternative.

When Pacific theatre hostilities concluded much further to the west, and with the ending of the war, the airstrip was left to the Aitutakians. Few though, could have foreseen the major role these strips were to play in developing and changing the island group, its infrastructure and its people.

Initially, DC6s flew the first leg of the trip from Auckland to Suva (Fiji). Solents then flew from Suva to Tonga, Samoa and Aitutaki. This service ceased in the early 1950s, and Aitutaki became the Cook Islands only air connection with the world outside. Tasman Empire Air Lines (TEAL) was the antecedent of Air New Zealand and flew the Solents, mammoth four engine seaplanes, from Auckland to Tahiti via the lagoons of Fiji, Samoa and Aitutaki.



The following Youtube video provides another interesting perspective on the Coral Route, including original footage of TEAL’s Sunderlands, the lagoon and wharf in Aitutaki, and passengers in Tahiti. The accuracy of the commentary seems a bit suspect, with statements like ‘Auckland, the capital of New Zealand…’.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2E_uzVv7hTg

Maps of the period show designated bands dotted at angles across the south-eastern corner of the lagoon, labelled ‘Seaplane alighting strip’. At the end of one strip on the map, jutting from the main aquatic runway, is the old-fashioned symbol for an anchor at the then uninhabited island of Akaiami. This is where TEAL’s gigantic Solents wallowed up to a jetty for their refuelling stop.



Today, all that remains of the original packed coral wharf at Akaiami is the derelict remains of black stones that formed the original foundations. Nearby, basic lodges (Gina’s Beach Lodge) can be leased although the island remains uninhabited by any permanent population.

The below images of Akaiami, One Foot Island, and a couple of selected others provide a sense of why travellers of the period reported the immense beauty and extraordinary waters of the island.

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_3231PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_3225PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_3204PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_3194PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Trip%20Report/IMG_3190PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

The fuel for the Solents, which was pumped by hand from the jetty into the flying boat’s tanks, made its journey there in a manner almost a laboured as the plane’s. It was taken by sea from New Zealand to Aitutaki, where the tanker stood off the passage at Arutanga (Aitutaki’s port), on the western side of the main island. From the tanker, drums of fuel were unloaded by lighter (a smaller barge-like vessel) and taken to Arutanga wharf, and thence by boat around the southern end of the main island and across the wide lagoon to the wharf on Akaiami, to await the arrival (on Thursdays) of the thirsty Solent and its 45 passengers.



The Solent’s passengers were carried on an upper and lower deck. Hostesses provided silver service and cooked full meals for them, in flight. Here are the first six TEAL Hostesses.

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Historic%20Cook%20Islands%20Aviation/First6TEALHostesses1946.jpg

On the refuelling stopover on Aitutaki’s lagoon, while the dozens of fuel drums were emptied into the plane’s tanks, the passengers had two hours on the island, during which they swam or lazed on the white sand under the canopy of coconut palms. As romantic as this may sound, Akaiami evidently swarms with mosquitoes, due to the presence of fresh water on the island, so, lazing in the shade may not have been as pleasant as we would like, in these days, to imagine.

A crew rests while refuelling takes place in the background…

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Historic%20Cook%20Islands%20Aviation/SolentCrew.jpg

Travel on the coral route was expensive, during a period when most international passengers still went by sea, and many of the world’s rich and famous stepped off onto the island of Akaiami.



Flying was also exhilarating. The 34 ton Solents took a minute and a half to break free of the water on takeoff and often flew only 1000 feet above sea level. On one occasion on Aitutaki’s lagoon, one of the Solent’s engines failed on takeoff. The passengers were stranded for over a week on the main island. The upmarket castaways were by all accounts reluctant to resume their journey when the seaplane was finally repaired. You may appreciate their position…

In 1954, DC6s replaced the Solents between Auckland and Fiji, but TEAL’s Solent Aranui continued to fly the island chain. By 1960, with the building of runways on other islands, the coral route era came to a close. At that point, Aranui was brought home to Auckland by captain Joe Shephard. Lovingly tended by members of the Solent Preservation Society, Aranui now resides at Auckland’s Museum of Motor Transport, Technology and Social History (MOTAT).

In March 1974, The Queen opened the new international airport in Rarotonga, thereby launching the new International gateway to The Cook Islands.

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Historic%20Cook%20Islands%20Aviation/Queen.jpg

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Historic%20Cook%20Islands%20Aviation/Queen2.jpg

SOURCES:

‘Coming on a Jet Plane, A Pictorial History of the Cook Islands International Airport Rarotonga 1944 – 1994’ - Colin Hall

The Cook Islands, 1998, Ewan Smith

For more information on TEAL’s Solents:

http://www.teal.co.nz/teal/TEAL%202.htm

[Edited 2010-03-28 01:32:18]
“At first, they'll only dislike what you say, but the more correct you start sounding the more they'll dislike you.”
 
beeweel15
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Sun Mar 28, 2010 8:45 am

Great Pics. The Queen coming off the VC10 of BA
 
PlaneHunter
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Sun Mar 28, 2010 8:56 am

Hi TheCommodore,

let me express my amazement: this is one of the best reports I have read in the last few months - fantastic pictures from a truly exotic place and many interesting historic facts.

I hope to read more from you soon!


PH
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ba319-131
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Sun Mar 28, 2010 9:15 am

Hi TheCommodore,

What a great report, so different from the norm.

History being told and beautiful picture from you too, lovely read.

Thanks for the research and posting for us all to learn something new.

Regards

Mark
111,732,3,4,5,7,8,BBJ,741,742,743,744,752,762,763,764,772,77L,773,77W,L15,D10,30,40,AB3,AB6,A312.313,319,320,321,332,333
 
TheCommodore
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The Coral Route, Flying Boats & WWII Airstrips

Sun Mar 28, 2010 9:31 am

Thanks guys,

It was a great adventure and it's a pleasure to share some of our findings. The book which is the source of some of the information, found in a small Rarotongan bookshop, is a treasure trove of even more information and great historic images.

Will be posting another trip report on the Air New Zealand Business Class (A320-200) sectors from Sydney to Auckland and Business Premier (B777-200ER) from Auckland to Rarotonga in the coming days.
“At first, they'll only dislike what you say, but the more correct you start sounding the more they'll dislike you.”
 
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Ryan h
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Sun Mar 28, 2010 10:12 am

Great report. Good to read about the history of aviation in the pacific.

Quoting TheCommodore (Reply 4):
Not far from the main township of Arutanga, The Air Rarotonga office is found

Looks like the sort of place that sells overpriced pies and drinks at the football, not an airline office.
South Australian Spotter www.ryanhothersall.net
 
TheCommodore
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Sun Mar 28, 2010 11:14 am

You should see the Fish and Chip shop down the road... it serves between 11am and 2pm!

No Hake either. Yellow Fin Tuna and chips. Yum!   
“At first, they'll only dislike what you say, but the more correct you start sounding the more they'll dislike you.”
 
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Mortyman
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Sun Mar 28, 2010 11:29 am

Thanx for this great report. Nice with all the history. I was on Rarotonga and Aitutaki in 2006 and I'm going back this year. Certianly looking forward to it   How long were you staying ?

[Edited 2010-03-28 04:37:40]
 
TheCommodore
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The Coral Route, Flying Boats & WWII Airstrips

Sun Mar 28, 2010 11:46 am

Quoting Mortyman (Reply 7):
I was on Rarotonga and Aitutaki in 2006 and I'm going back this year. Certianly looking forward to it How long were you staying ?

Stayed 14 days.

We spent the first half of the holiday at the Little Polynesian, which is superb (south side of Rarotonga). Then the last 7 days at The Pacific Resort Aitutaki and that is every bit as beautiful as people say. It's no wonder it won best island resort in the world for the second year running!

Are you going to AIT again? You can stay on Akaiami, just near the old flying boat wharf. There are some lodges there but things look pretty basic.
“At first, they'll only dislike what you say, but the more correct you start sounding the more they'll dislike you.”
 
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Mortyman
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Sun Mar 28, 2010 11:51 am

My lodging will not be as luxuary as yours i'm afraid... Club Raro on Raro and Samade on the Beach on Aitutaki. However I'm also going to Tahiti, Moorea and Samoa and all the way from Norway, so I have to think budget a bit  

[Edited 2010-03-28 05:01:46]
 
akhmad
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The Coral Route, Flying Boats & WWII Airstrips

Sun Mar 28, 2010 12:23 pm

Hi TheCommodore,

I thought I was reading National Geographic. But no, it is a trip report of yours! Very well written, really informative with the interesting historical facts and surrounded with beautiful pictures.

Thanks for all the efforts.

Cheers,
Suryo
Friends forever
 
palmjet
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Sun Mar 28, 2010 12:28 pm

Fantastic trip report and so informative. Some great historical images too of a bygone era. The VC10 at RAR was also very special. Thanks very much for posting!

P-Jet
Eastern - Number One To The Sun
 
ATLTPA
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Sun Mar 28, 2010 3:37 pm

Great report-- I am particularly impressed by the time you took to research and address the history of the airport and aviation in the area.

Wish we saw more trip reports like yours. History adds a depth to any story that makes it more meaningful!

ATLTPA
 
TheCommodore
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The Coral Route, Flying Boats & WWII Airstrips

Sun Mar 28, 2010 3:44 pm

Quoting Mortyman (Reply 9):
My lodging will not be as luxuary as yours i'm afraid... Club Raro on Raro and Samade on the Beach on Aitutaki. However I'm also going to Tahiti, Moorea and Samoa and all the way from Norway, so I have to think budget a bit


Sounds like a nice trip. Hey, don't worry. You can't go wrong. The Cooks are so relaxed and beautiful that you'll have a great time in pretty much any level of accommodation. The Samade is in a great, private location and if you grab some scooters from Rino's Rentals ($20 per day) you'll be able to get around the main island and explore a bit.

Whether you are religious or not (and I'm not), make sure you don't miss going to one of the churches on a Sunday morning. You can sit outside or join the Aitutakians inside (they'll almost drag you in) and listen to their incredible singing. There is nothing quite like it. They dress in their Sunday best and sing with Force 10 gusto. Quite beautiful and very moving.

If you are travelling with a small group and don't mind self catering, I can highly recommend hiring a villa in Moorea (Opanuhu Bay) called Robinson Cove. It can work out to be quite cost effective (especially with the car that you can also rent at a very small cost). Well... 'cost effective' when compared to the main resorts/hotels in Moorea and defrayed across a group of four at least!! Take a look here:

http://www.robinsoncove.com/

There's a great little supermarket just a short drive away and, naturally, a wonderful daily supply of mouth watering baguettes.

Are you flying from Raro to Papeete with Air Rarotonga?

Visited your lovely country a couple of years ago and cruised on the Hertigruten LIne from Hammerfest to Bergen. The journey of a lifetime! Flew to Roveniemi from Helsinki with Finnair (nice little A319 OH-LVL) then crossed the Arctic Circle on a bus to Hammerfest - WOW. Stunning...
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Mortyman
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The Coral Route, Flying Boats & WWII Airstrips

Sun Mar 28, 2010 4:38 pm

I'm travelling all by myself...

5 days on Moorea
3 days on Tahiti
5 days on Rarotonga
5 days on Aitutaki
2 days in Auckland
8 days on Samoa


I will by flying Air Tahiti between Tahiti and Rarotonga ( ATR 72 I think )

and an A320 from Rarotonga to Auckland


Would have loved to have stayed longer at some of these places, but I have been to the Cooks and french Polynesia before, so it's Samoa that is the focus this time around  


Do they rent out cars on Aitutaki ? I guess there is still no buss. Any Taxis ?
 
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Mortyman
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The Coral Route, Flying Boats & WWII Airstrips

Sun Mar 28, 2010 8:25 pm

I think Air Rarotonga only has the one Saab 340 ( I know they have some smaller planes too ) The one plane must have a huge workload with alll the short trips. Could be a bit problematic if something should fail with it...
 
TheCommodore
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The Coral Route, Flying Boats & WWII Airstrips

Sun Mar 28, 2010 8:33 pm

Hi Mortyman,

No, there are cars for rent as well. As for buses, I expect they exist but I don't think I saw one. There are certainly taxis of sorts as some tourists take these on the Sundays to church.

As for Air Rarotonga, I think they have at two smaller Embraers. I've sighted at least one.
“At first, they'll only dislike what you say, but the more correct you start sounding the more they'll dislike you.”
 
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Mortyman
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Sun Mar 28, 2010 8:47 pm

Thanx TheCommodore


This is the way I will fly...


SVG - LHR - LAX - PPT - RAR - AIT - RAR - AKL - APW - LAX - LHR - SVG

( I will go by ferry between Tahiti and Moorea )


To put it in another way...



SVG - LHR - Scandinavian Airline System SAS - B 737 800
LHR - LAX - Air New Zealand - B 747 400
LAX - PPT - Air Tahiti Nui - Airbus 340 300
PPT - RAR - Air Tahiti - ATR 72 500
RAR - AIT - Air Rarotonga - Saab 340 A
AIT - RAR - Air Rarotonga - Saab 340 A
RAR - AKL - Air New Zealand - Airbus 320 200
AKL - APW - Air New Zealand - Airbus 320 200
APW - LAX - Air New Zealand - B 767 300 ER
LAX - LHR - Air New Zealand - B 747 400
LHR - SVG - Scandinavian Airline System SAS - B 737 800
 
reifel
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The Coral Route, Flying Boats & WWII Airstrips

Sun Mar 28, 2010 9:10 pm

Thanks a lot for this very detailled report from a terrific place full of background information! very interesting to read, really appreciated!
 
TheCommodore
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Mon Mar 29, 2010 7:27 am

Quoting Mortyman (Reply 17):
APW - LAX - Air New Zealand - B 767 300 ER

Mortyman,

That's a complex schedule! Do you know where your 767 APW/LAX service originates from?

Do you think Air New Zealand are flying Brisbane, Apia, LAX or is that 767 from Auckland through Apia to LA?
“At first, they'll only dislike what you say, but the more correct you start sounding the more they'll dislike you.”
 
kiwiandrew

The Coral Route, Flying Boats & WWII Airstrips

Mon Mar 29, 2010 7:49 am

Am I the only one who cant view the photos ? All I get is a "bandwith exceeded " message 
 
The777Man
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The Coral Route, Flying Boats & WWII Airstrips

Mon Mar 29, 2010 9:43 am

Very nice report! I love the pictures and the rich history is intruiging......

The777Man
Boeing 777s flown: UA, TG, KE, BA, CX, NH, JD, JL, CZ, SQ, EK, NG, CO, AF, SV, KU, DL, AA, MH, OZ, CA, MS, SU, LY, RG, PE, AZ, KL, VN, PK, EY, NZ, AM, BR, AC, DT, UU, OS, AI, 9W, KQ, QR, VA, JJ, ET, TK, PR, BG, T5, CI, MU and LX.. Further to fly.. LH 777
 
greg99
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The Coral Route, Flying Boats & WWII Airstrips

Mon Mar 29, 2010 10:07 am

I rarely comment on trip reports, but this is among the finest I've ever read.

Thank you!

Greg
 
TheCommodore
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Mon Mar 29, 2010 10:33 am

Quoting kiwiandrew (Reply 20):
Am I the only one who cant view the photos ? All I get is a "bandwith exceeded " message 

Sorry Kiwiandrew,

My Photobucket account ran out of bandwidth in under 24 hours as a result of this report.   

Things like work got in the way and it wasn't until I checked my email that I found a warning message with the glad tidings from Photobucket. A small adjustment to their bank account should see things remain in order for the next two years at least.

Quoting greg99 (Reply 22):
rarely comment on trip reports, but this is among the finest I've ever read.

Thank you!

Greg

To Greg and those above who have been so kind to express their thanks, I am humbled and inspired by your appreciation. There is so much more I could have written about The Cook islands fascinating aviation history - especially Rarotonga airport's development.

For now, I'll just try and get the Air New Zealand TR's finished and uploaded in the next few days. While there's little history in them, I will share a link to some archival family footage of an NZ DC8 arriving at Raro airport in 1974. It's only a glimpse from a scratchy standard 8 home movie but its kind of charming...
“At first, they'll only dislike what you say, but the more correct you start sounding the more they'll dislike you.”
 
gabrielchew
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RE: The Coral Route, Flying Boats & Wwii Airstrips

Mon Mar 29, 2010 4:29 pm

Great report, thanks for sharing. Quite fancy a trip down to the Cook Islands now but I don't think that's going to be happening in the near future.
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odafz
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RE: The Coral Route, Flying Boats & Wwii Airstrips

Mon Mar 29, 2010 5:19 pm

outstanding, really outstanding.
Thank you for sharing
 
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Mortyman
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RE: The Coral Route, Flying Boats & Wwii Airstrips

Mon Mar 29, 2010 10:41 pm

Quoting TheCommodore (Reply 19):
Mortyman,

That's a complex schedule! Do you know where your 767 APW/LAX service originates from?

Do you think Air New Zealand are flying Brisbane, Apia, LAX or is that 767 from Auckland through Apia to LA?

I'm afraid I don't know... On another note, I do know however that I had to spend a few days in Auckland to get the routing fixed to Apia from Auckland ( Had'nt really planned on staying in Auckland. Once a week schedule I think )

[

[Edited 2010-03-29 15:53:38]
 
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Mortyman
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RE: The Coral Route, Flying Boats & Wwii Airstrips

Mon Mar 29, 2010 10:57 pm

Flying on a ATR 72 from Papeete to Rarotonga sounds like a serious stretch for such a plane. Alot of water to cover...

From To Initial Heading Distance

13 segment path: 41327 km
SVG (58°52'36"N 05°38'16"E) LHR (51°28'39"N 00°27'41"W) 207° (SW) 910 km
LHR (51°28'39"N 00°27'41"W) LAX (33°56'33"N 118°24'26"W) 311° (NW) 8780 km
LAX (33°56'33"N 118°24'26"W) PPT (17°33'24"S 149°36'41"W) 215° (SW) 6591 km
PPT (17°33'24"S 149°36'41"W) MOZ (17°29'24"S 149°45'43"W) 294° (NW) 18 km
MOZ (17°29'24"S 149°45'43"W) PPT (17°33'24"S 149°36'41"W) 114° (SE) 18 km
PPT (17°33'24"S 149°36'41"W) RAR (21°12'10"S 159°48'20"W) 247° (W) 1144 km
RAR (21°12'10"S 159°48'20"W) AIT (18°49'51"S 159°45'51"W) 0° (N) 263 km
AIT (18°49'51"S 159°45'51"W) RAR (21°12'10"S 159°48'20"W) 180° (S) 263 km
RAR (21°12'10"S 159°48'20"W) AKL (37°00'29"S 174°47'30"E) 228° (SW) 3014 km
AKL (37°00'29"S 174°47'30"E) APW (13°49'47"S 171°59'50"W) 30° (NE) 2884 km
APW (13°49'47"S 171°59'50"W) LAX (33°56'33"N 118°24'26"W) 45° (NE) 7754 km
LAX (33°56'33"N 118°24'26"W) LHR (51°28'39"N 00°27'41"W) 34° (NE) 8780 km
LHR (51°28'39"N 00°27'41"W) SVG (58°52'36"N 05°38'16"E) 22° (NE) 910 km
 
aa61hvy
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RE: The Coral Route, Flying Boats & Wwii Airstrips

Mon Mar 29, 2010 11:25 pm

Great report. I was down in RAR last July. I miss that place every day and plan on getting a place there down the line. The people were amazing.

I spoke with some of my friends from there the other week and they said Atutaki was crushed by the typhoon that came in a few months ago. Did you see much damage?
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TheCommodore
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RE: The Coral Route, Flying Boats & Wwii Airstrips

Tue Mar 30, 2010 3:57 am

Quoting aa61hvy (Reply 28):
I spoke with some of my friends from there the other week and they said Atutaki was crushed by the typhoon that came in a few months ago. Did you see much damage?

Yes, Aitutaki was very badly damaged by Cyclone Pat however the New Zealand Air Force has been doing some heavy lifting to assist in the recover effort. A RNZAF Hercules was making regular drops of supplies and building materials for two solid weeks, following the cyclone, and much of the mess has been cleaned up. Nearly $10m in aid has also been announced and this will greatly assist the re-building of homes.

Here are a few shots of damaged structures. Check out the broken concrete power poles...

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Cyclone%20Pat/IMG_3059PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Cyclone%20Pat/IMG_3257PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Cyclone%20Pat/IMG_3238PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Cyclone%20Pat/IMG_3237PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Cyclone%20Pat/IMG_3063PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Cyclone%20Pat/IMG_3053PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Cyclone%20Pat/IMG_3051PacificResortAitutaki.jpg

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Aitutaki%20Cyclone%20Pat/IMG_2929PacificResortAitutaki.jpg
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A342
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RE: The Coral Route, Flying Boats & Wwii Airstrips

Wed Mar 31, 2010 12:03 am

At least to me, there are even more "mystical" airports in the Cook Islands. Especially Penrhyn atoll comes to mind, with an airstrip large enough to land a 757 on, but the runway seems to be unpaved.

Air Raro offers a "Northern Atolls Adventure tour": http://www.airraro.com/clientpages/raro/northern_adventure.html
Exceptions confirm the rule.
 
TheCommodore
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RE: The Coral Route, Flying Boats & Wwii Airstrips

Wed Mar 31, 2010 3:53 am

Quoting A342 (Reply 30):
At least to me, there are even more "mystical" airports in the Cook Islands. Especially Penrhyn atoll comes to mind, with an airstrip large enough to land a 757 on, but the runway seems to be unpaved.

Perhaps you have Tom Neale type escape in mind? He certainly liked it there...

The unpaved runway is probably the same coral/sand/clay mix as on Aitutaki. You could probably land an A380 at Aitutaki, as long as you didn't mind making a slight turn half way down the runway.  

Thanks for the link. Amazing isn't it. We're already planning and plotting our return next year. Penrhyn and Manihiki are top targets although I believe flights are infrequent and very expensive. Apparently there are also boat services but they're slow of course, and infrequent. Here's a snap of Air Raro's Embraer in final approach at Rarotonga Airport. Managed to grab this while walking on the beach one morning.

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx33/stewmiketheglade/Embraer.jpg
“At first, they'll only dislike what you say, but the more correct you start sounding the more they'll dislike you.”
 
omegatoo
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Re: The Coral Route, Flying Boats & WWII Airstrips

Mon Aug 01, 2016 2:08 am

beeweel15 wrote:
Great Pics. The Queen coming off the VC10 of BA

The photograph was taken by Bill Johnson and is subjected to International Copyright Laws

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